Thursday, December 31, 2009

What's with the class war?

I found the above sticker on the inside of the Carter foot bridge this evening. It seems to be aligned with Gordon Brown's doomed 'class war' campaign plan for the next general election. It really isn't edifying and it would horrify most of the lefties I know - who tend to be intelligent.

Iain Dale recently blogged on this subject.

There seems to be a suggestion that the Baron Mandelson is trying to change Gordon's mind. I hope that he is successful for the sake of our civic life.

Anyway, when this train pulls into London I'll be off to celebrate the New Year, so a happy New Year to all our readers, whichever way your politics lean!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Climate Change starts at the Guildhall

I visited the Guildhall just before Christmas to check out a local planning application. My abiding memory of the visit however was that the whole building appeared to be stifflingly hot.

I wrote to the building manager, who explained it was down to problems with the heating controls adjusting after a power surge. I don't think this is good enough - it must be possible to avoid wasting energy in this way.

The Liberal democrats like to talk the talk on climate change, with all the fervour of a true believer. The Council employs at great expense a 'climate change officer', and has huge budgets it spends on telling us we are all doomed, and making people feel guilty about their own behaviour.

Meanwhile, on one of the coldest days of the year, the heating in the Guildhall was swelteringly hot, and staff were busy trying to open windows to cool down. As ever with Lib Dems, its more important to be seen to be doing something, than actually fixing problems.

I think we do need to take some serious steps to tackle the risk of global warming and energy security (which is somewhat different to signing up to every conceivable suggestions from the latest doomsday cult on the subject). Most likely solutions are going to involve major changes in the production, storage and transmission of energy, many requiring technological breakthroughs - very little of which Cambridge City Council can do anything about (short of fixing its planning policies so Cambridge can continue to be a world leader in technology development).

When it comes to what individuals (and local authorities) can do - I suggest the best approach is to highlight the costs of being profligate with energy - the only thing that will make sufficient people change behaviour is if reducing Co2 production is a significant money saver. Which brings me to the real sense of outrage about the Guildhall being swelteringly hot - it is Council tax payers paying for all that waste.

Conservative run Windsor and Maidenhead Council has not only installed smart metering in Council properties, but the usage is available online - allowing residents to check all the time if their Council is wasting energy, and encouraging them to keep bills low.

Why can't Cambridge City Council be more enlightened about climate change, and focus on saving money not on climate change ideology.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Christmas Card

Coleridge Conservatives blog has a new feature - an online poll available top right! And the first topic - what is the best Conservative Christmas card this year?

Choices are - Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Party Chairman:

David Cameron MP, Leader of the Conservative Party:

Or Coleridge Conservatives, designed brilliantly by Andy Bower, some time before we had sight of the competition:

Seasons Greetings to all our readers!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nick Hillman hits the snow running

Last Saturday Cambridge residents selected Nick Hillman to stand for parliament for Cambridge at the next general election.

The campaign team in Coleridge agree that Nick is an excellent choice for Cambridge. You can read all about Nick on his website ( and keep up-to-date with his campaign on his regularly-updated blog.

Nick has previously lived in Cambridge while doing his teacher training and has taught at Hills Road Sixth Form College. Nick has had a varied career including teaching history, working in the pensions industry and currently as chief of staff to David Willetts MP, specialising in university policy. Nick has pledged to move back to Cambridge as soon as possible and before the new year.

During the short campaign between being shortlisted for the Cambridge open primary and being selected Nick worked hard at making contacts in the constituency and understanding the issues facing Cambridge, including visiting the city council's West/Central Area Committee.

Since selection Nick has already been to the East Area Committee, where the consequences of Ashwell going bust were discussed and today was out delivering Christmas cards to Coleridge residents.

We wish Nick well in his campaign to become Cambridge's MP. He will be building on the excellent work done by his predecessor, Richard Normington, over the last two years. Only a Conservative MP can help to kick Gordon Brown out and return a strong Conservative government to fix the broken economy and broken society!

Follow Nick on twitter or sign up to his campaign at!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ashwell's discussed at East Area Committee

The topic of Ashwells and the station redevelopment was discussed at East Area committee last night - amidst the concerns I have already raised that the transport improvements forming part of the scheme are now at risk - in particular the issue of cycle parking. I thought it was quite a successful meeting, we agreed to summon the Director of planning to our next meeting so we can question what the transport situation is now, and to request that the section 106 agreement is reviewed in light of the administration of Ashwell's.

I wouldn't normally respond to posts on other partys' blogs but Lib Dem Cllr Nichola Harrison has taken my comments made last night and misrepresented them in such an amusingly ridiculous way I can't resist.

As much as I enjoy, on occassions like last night's East Area committee, hearing Cllr Harrison's explanations of 'how things really are' and how with her great knowledge she is able to 'correct' my misunderstandings, I see the situation rather differently.

She says on her blog: "Chris Howell’s diatribe last night was based on the strange reasoning that the system is a tax and is therefore unfair on developers."

Firstly on the question of what s106 payments are.

If something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, I tend to call it a duck, even if other people insist on calling it something else.

In this case s106 agreements result in money or value that developers have to pay to the local authorities in order to get planning permission on a new development. Thats why I call it a developers tax.

To correct the biggest error in Cllr Harrison's blog post. No, I don't want to see this system completely abandoned with all developer payments stopped, just recognised for what it is, and for the Council to therefore act accordingly so we can start having the type of new developments people want and would welcome.

My argument is that if you accept the system is a tax, the Council will stop treating it like free money that no-one has to pay for (apart from developers of course who don't really count), and start considering both the economic effects of the Council's demands on developers and what this means for people who have to put up with the pokey overpriced rabbit hutches and inadequate transport infrastructure that results from our current broken planning system.

The suggestion that s106 agreements are purely there to mitigate the effects of a new development as Cllr Harrison claimed last night is laughable when you see what happens in practice - it is a system whereby the Councils' try to extract as much of the uplift in value from a developer being granted planning permission because they can, and don't seem to have any sense or scrutiny of whether the taxpayer gets good value for money from this huge tax burden. If these payments really are vital to mitigate the effects of development, why has the Council been busy renegotiating them over the last few months?

The fact is that new development has got into a vicious cycle, aided by local Councils, of which Lib Dem run Cambridge is a prime example - and it is going to take something dramatic to get us out of this.

  • People see how horrible many new developments are so seek to oppose them (it doesn't help that the history of new house building in the UK for decades has been littered with hideousness)
  • Planning permission is therefore hard to come by, so the uplift in value of the land when it is granted is significant (and the house prices in the free market are extortionate - yes Nichola, the other big error in your blog post, it is not big business, it is the ordinary people looking to buy market houses in and around Cambridge that are paying for all this nonsense)
  • The Council through the s106 system has the power to tax this uplift in value, sees it as free cash so tries to extract as much of this uplift as it can, to spend on all sorts of things - 40% so called 'affordable housing' being one of the biggest costs for developers.
  • Developers then need to extract as much value as possible from their open market housing, so don't allocate sufficient physical space for public open space and transport links, and build private sector housing to a low spec, with poor design and poor materials.
  • The Council meanwhile thinks that community facilities are only things that Council's run, like community centres and libraries, and don't even think about providing things like a local shop or a local pub - nor do they necessarily think about the ongoing revenue implications of the things they spend their one-off capital payments from developers on. (Orchard Park springs to mind)
  • The result is new developments that are hideous - and the cycle starts all over again.

The whole system has been even more broken over the last few years, as property valuations have been based on what effectively was a pyramid scheme, bearing no relation to underlying value, rather values inflated by the prospect of someone else coming along willing to pay even more than you have just paid, thanks to a buy to let mortgage fraudulently obtained from a now bankrupt bank. But the Councils were still lapping it up, and ramping up the s106 shopping lists for schemes getting approval, such that now the inevitable crash has happened, developments like Northstowe are on hold, Ashwells has gone bust, and developers around the city are seeking to renegotiate what were previously claimed to be vital payments. In other words, we are still in a high demand area for housing, there are sites available ready to go, and the Council's demands are stopping development from happening - it is a tragic irony that Council demands for affordable housing are probably doing most to keep housing unaffordable for the vast majority of the local population.

The Conservatives have proposed a different way (see policy green papers 9 - Control Shift, returning power to local communities, and 10 Stong foundations, building homes and communities) - s106 type taxes clearly won't go completely, but there will be less interference from government over how developments occur, with control passed to local residents, and local incentives for new development. Hopefully developers will start to focus on what people want, rather than what Councils want, and we can see high quality new developments around Cambridge, with appropriate transport that are welcomed by local residents.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kelvin Close plans now at City Homes South

In case anyone would like to review the new planning application for Kelvin Close, I am told that these have now arrived at City Homes South, after an unscheduled journey to City Homes North!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Totally disgusting

I've just had to report to the council that there is excrement at the top of one of the slides on the play area at Coleridge Rec, after a tip off from a local resident. Hopefully it will be cleared up urgently.

It is just possible that someone let their dog into the play area (which they shouldn't have done) and then didn't realise what had happened, but it does seem unlikely - leaving the totally disgusting possibility that this has been allowed to happen intentionally - words fail me.

UPDATE: Had the following back from the Council -

"I am writing to update you on measures taken to remove fouling to the children's slide at Coleridge Recreation Ground play area reported on Monday 14th December. The background is that an incident was reported to the Customer Service Centre, logged at 12.11pm, outlining fouling within the play area. This report was passed to Streetscene electronically and our mobile cleaner/graffiti team attended the site within the hour.

The graffiti team member reported that fouling was present at the top of the children's slide. The operative also stated that this was most likely caused by accidental fouling from a younger child. He did not feel that the fouling was in any way deliberate and he has considerable experience of dealing with incidents of this nature.

The play area is inspected daily, however on Monday the 14th this inspection was not planned until after 2pm and I can confirm that the inspection was undertaken by which time the play area had been cleaned."

Perne Road Shops

Just had an on site visit to the Perne Rd/Radegund Rd shops with the owners, Luminus, and their manager for the site, to find out the latest plans, and to again impress on them the urgency of the situation in view of how long residents have already had to put up with the empty flats above the shops and the general mess of the site.

The story is pretty much the same as 12 months ago - encouraging noises, but they still don't know if they are going to extend and refurbish or completely redevelop, due to commercial negotiations. The current favourite looks to be extension and refurbishment, with some plans potentially going to consultation early in the new year. I've heard it all before - but will be asking the Council to look into its powers to take control of the property if owners fail to come up with some firm plans to bring residential units back in to use early in the year.

As an interesting aside, they suggested someone had contacted them interested in taking all three of the shop units - wonder who that might have been...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ashwell's Goes Bust - what now for the Station Area redevelopment

The Cambridge Evening News is reporting that Ashwells, developer for the CB1 station area redevelopment, has gone bust. It is as yet unclear what impact this will have on the development plans, but it seems inconceivable that it won't delay things, if not changing the plans more radically.

I commented at the time the application was approved on how much faith the Councils had put in this application from an early stage, and how much they had at stake in terms of meeting their transport infrastructure objectives - so this is yet another fiasco for the Lib Dems running the planning system in Cambridge.

Now it has failed, we need answers to how this transport infrastructure will be provided - not least the very urgent problem of cycle parking which is an absolute disgrace (bike finally released after 3 days - no thanks to the station authorities or the police).

I have just written to the Director of Planning at the City Council:

"Following the financial collapse of Ashwell's reported in the CEN, I would appreciate an urgent update on the Council's current assessment of the impact this will have on the transport infrastructure elements of the project, and in particular the multi-storey car park and increase in cycle spaces. I would describe the latter situation as a crisis, and one that reflects very poorly on Cambridge as a cycling city. Cambridge Cycle Campaign are due to hold a meeting this week to discuss this problem and it really now needs urgent action."

UPDATE: Not sure what Council officers are doing answering emails from Councillors late on Sunday evening, but I've had a reply back already indicating that the latest news isn't expected to be a problem "I believe the announcement last week actually brings the prospect of the scheme forward rather than making it less likely." Have to say I'm a little sceptical at that suggestion...

Friday, December 11, 2009


There is something very wrong with this picture. On the right is my bike (the battle bike). Amazingly when I got to the station at 5pm on wednesday, there was a spare rack for me to lock it to. When I returned at midnight, the bike on the left had appeared, locked to the rack through my frame, leaving my bike 'kebabed', unable to be moved.

Thursday morning, offending bike still there - and I get a rare insight into the world of bus travel in Cambridge. Thursday afternoon - offending bike still there. Even more remarkable - a British Transport police office was on hand to ask what I could do.

His manner gave every impression of someone who has been asked this a number of times before, I wasn't going to like the answer, and he didn't particular like the answer he was giving either.

Basically, the rules have recently changed, and neither the police nor station staff will help remove the offending bike, for fear it could be deemed 'criminal damage'. He suggested I ask the station supervisor, and put in a complaint - he also suggested I point out the bike to him so he could let his colleagues know 'what is going on'.

Inside, the supervisor confirmed a rule change, and insisted there was nothing they could do, and I should just wait for the offending bike to move.

This situation if frankly ridiculous. The sign clearly indicates that there are powers to remove bikes causing problems, I suspect they just couldn't be bothered coming up with a proper procedure that will involve storing the removed bikes. If they really are worried, they could change the sign to say something even more obvious like 'permission to park your bike here is conditional on you not locking other peoples bikes - if you lock your bike in these racks such that other bikes are disabled, we reserve the right to remove your bike to storage at the owners cost' or something similar that their lawyers will like.

The whole situation with station cycle parking makes Cambridge look like a joke when it comes to supporting cyclists - the root cause of the problem is the woeful lack of spaces. With the CB1 redevelopment some way away (if ever with the current economic mess), they need to take urgent measures to increase cycle parking.

A letter of complaint will be on its way, and if I can't get my bike back today, I will be along with some boltcutters later (unless anyone has any better ideas...)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Police Surgery next week

The Coleridge neighbourhood policing team are holding one of their regular surgeries next week.

It will be held on Thursday 17/12/09 between 19:00 and 20:00, at the Lichfield Road Community Hall.

Residents are welcome to come along and have a chat with our local police community support officers Mark Mitcham and Mick Stribling, to give them any feedback or raise any local policing issues that you would like to see action on.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Last chance to sign up for the open primary!

Registration for Cambridge Conservatives' open primary to select our prospective parliamentary candidate closes at midnight tonight. Register NOW!

However you normally vote, it is in the best interests of our city for all parties to present the strongest candidate possible so if you are a city elector and you are available on Saturday morning then this is your chance to make a difference!

Can't developers leave Kelvin Close alone

Shortly after the blow of plans being approved for expansion of the Nursing Home that will see two semis demolished, and a traffic problem on the close made seriously worse, another planning application has been submitted that could result in another pair of semis for the chop.

Application 09/1106/FUL calls for the demolition of 22 and 23 Kelvin Close at the far end of the road, to be replaced by 8 houses. There is only 10 parking spaces specified, adding to parking problems on the road, but my biggest complaint is on the effect of the streetscape. Why do we have to pull down two good family semis with gardens to be replaced by 8 rabbit hutches. Can't developers just leave Kelvin Close alone...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Welcome to Coleridge's newest resident

Congratulations to Richard and Stacey Normington on the birth of their baby girl, Catherine Elizabeth, this morning!

I look forward to seeing the upgraded 'battle pram'...

Thanks to both of you for all your help in setting up the new Coleridge branch and making sure it has got off to such a flying start!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coleridge Betrayed

The letter from Chris Howell in today's Cambridge News (but not online) reminds us how Coleridge residents were badly let down when their newly-elected Labour county councillor voted for congestion charging in October.
I WELCOME Richard Normington's letter warning that we may now be heading for congestion charging in Cambridge, without further approval from councillors. The damage was done when a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund was agreed, which included the charge, and council officers have already drafted a report presenting options in detail for how the charge would work.

I would however go further. The problem is that councillors, sadly including the Labour county councillor for Coleridge, have already voted to approve this bid, including the charge. This was despite clear assurances given during the recent county council elections that he was opposed to congestion charging in Cambridge. The only solution is that we should hold a public referendum, free from all the spin of those obsessed with introducing the charge, and let the people decide.
I stood at the recent county council elections on a pledge to oppose congestion charging (Bower's Blueprint, no. 2), so I was really disappointed when I discovered that my Labour opponent, who had spent the whole campaign trying to imply that I would support congestion charging, went and voted for it himself.

While a Labour councillor suggested that pursuing my pledges would have led to me losing the whip if elected, it turns out that only Conservative members and the member for Ramsey voted against the TIF bid that included the government's congestion charging blackmail. Those Conservatives still take the whip. The Labour members for Coleridge and Cherry Hinton could have decided to vote against but they did not.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One week to the open primary

Cambridge Conservatives are holding an 'open primary' (caucus) to select a replacement prospective parliamentary candidate on Saturday 12 December. All registered voters in the city constituency are eligible to attend and vote but you need to sign up first.

The short list does not seem to have been published yet, so I do not know who will be in the race, but the place to be to find out the latest news seems to be Richard Normington's blog, where he is running a commentary on the process - one hopeful seems to have declared so far.

Thank you to everyone who applied to be our PPC - may the best candidate win!

UPDATE (Sunday): I have just found out that registration for the open primary closes at midnight on Wednesday. Sign up quickly!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Cracking Read

Richard Normington, formerly prospective parliamentary candidate, has continued his award-winning political blog over at

Everything is covered, from the Cambridge School Classics Project to the Rump Parliament, and from horseracing to employer relations.

Richard's blog is the place to go for erudite and amusing commentary on politics in Cambridge from an experienced Conservative campaigner. I make sure I read it daily and I commend it to anyone interested in politics in Cambridge.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mill Road shut on Saturday

The Mill Road winter festival is taking place on Saturday 5th December, with the opening at Ditchburn place at 10.30am and will be going on until around 16.30 hours.

Just a quick word of warning however, the road from Tenison Road over to Sedgewick Street will be closed to all traffic from the times as above.

Access to Tenison Road and Sedgewick Street will remain available and the roads off Mill road will remain open but there will be no access by vehicles from the part of Mill road that is closed.

One development being launched during the Fair is a new scheme called Millycard, that will be available from outside Hilarys the Greengrocers. The website isn't up and running yet, but for a fee of £2, I'm told the card will entitle holders to all sorts of discounts and offers from participating local traders.

Your Conservative team will be watching with interest how this scheme develops, and hope it can provide support for the diverse range of independent traders on Mill Road.

Latest Rosenstiel Rage Incident Hits CEN

The latest Rosenstiel Rage incident has hit the CEN.

Someone calling themselves Colin Rosenstiel has posted in the comments to this article:

"There was a time when your newspaper would support its readers who find themselves in conflict with unreasoning abuse of authority by minor public officials. Regrettably you have chosen to further a political attack"

If this a genuine comment from Cllr Rosenstiel then it is a total disgrace - completely unrepentant for his actions that resulted in delays to the journey of many people, and showing a complete lack of respect for the British Transport Police - whose judgement with regard to what might be reasonable in ensuring public safety on the railways I would trust rather more than Cllr Rosenstiel's.

I wonder if Cambridge Liberal Democrats will demonstrate equally poor judgement and carry on as ever supporting Cllr Rosenstiel.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blog Exclusive: What's all this then

I've been sent the following picture, taken on a train I believe at Kings Cross earlier today. It appears to show a certain Cambridge City Councillor, and a police officer. I wonder if anyone can provide a narrative?

Coleridge Conservatives Blog goes from Strength to Strength

Coleridge Conservatives blog goes from strength to strength - in the three months to the end of Nov 2009, unique visitors increased 64% on the same period last year.

Over on the 'Coleridge Labour Update' blog, the latest update is, err, that there is no update. 3 Labour councillors in the ward, but not a single blog posting in the last three months. This speaks for itself as to who is working hardest for local residents in the ward.

Your Coleridge Conservative team - working and blogging all year round, not just at election time!

Cyclist vs Driver

Last nights local Inside Out program had a section on the long running debate between cyclists and car drivers in Cambridge - available here on iPlayer for about a week, from about 1 minute in.

It uses cameras to compare the view of a cyclist, in this case Jim Chisholm, liaison officer of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and a delivery driver. There is lots of footage of cycling around Cambridge, and there are a fair few clips of other cyclists and drivers that that leave you feeling scared for the participants (mostly for the cyclists).

Overall the report seemed fair on both sides, but if anything I would say it exaggerates the extent to which there are problems - it is a small percentage of cyclists and drivers that give each side a bad name, and the extent of problems can be overstated.

But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. I have the advantage of being both a cyclist and a driver - I drive around 4,000 miles a year, and probably cycle around 1,500 miles. This gives a good insight into both points of view in Cambridge.

Car drivers, in theory at least, need to be formally trained and their costs are significantly higher - this can lead some drivers to assume they have a greater right to use the roads in Cambridge than cyclists. They don't, and sometimes (e.g. following a cyclist who is taking a perfectly reasonable position in the middle of a road), they need to just relax. But sitting inside a comfortable vehicle, many drivers simply fail to appreciate the risks that they are exposing more vulnerable road users to - in how much room they give cyclists when following them or overtaking, how fast they travel or when manoeuvring at junctions. A mindset change from a small number of drivers would solve a lot of problems.

Cyclists on the other hand can just get on a bike and ride off - no training, no insurance, no tax (and quite right too!) - but they also run a much greater risk of being injured in any collision with a car. And in this context, there is clearly a problem with a significant minority of cyclists. There are simple steps that all cyclists could take to be safer - assuming that they must stop at red lights, always using bike lights at night, not cycling whilst on the phone or whilst drunk. But to significantly improve cyclist safety, I think it would take some less obvious solutions. I am frequently in a hurry as a cyclist, and end up taking manoeuvres that if not outright dangerous, with hindsight could be called aggressive - in the same way there is a concept of defensive driving, there are definitely times when my safety would benefit from 'defensive cycling'.

The debate between cyclists and drivers in Cambridge has been going on for decades, and doubtless will go on for decades more. But as someone who does both, I don't think the importance of cycling to Cambridge can be overstated - and both cyclists and car drivers should welcome ever greater take up of cycling. If every cyclist in Cambridge gave up cycling, the results would be disastrous - Cambridge would grind to a halt and cease to function as a City. I don't think cycling is going to be that crucial in saving the planet from climate change, but if every car driver was to take up cycling in Cambridge, if only for some journeys, the roads would be less congested, people would be fitter and healthier, and journeys would be faster and safer for everyone. Which is why I usually, if not always, err on the side of the cyclist in these debates.